6 February 2024

She was spirited, strong, and brave. And she was jealous. She was an important figure in the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. And God put her in her place. In the end, however, He loved her like a daughter.

I led the other Hebrew women in song and dance, and sang the song of Moses with them. Why did I take on this important role as lead singer and lead dancer? Because I was a prophetess.

Female prophets

In my time, there were also women who had this important role. When God pours out His Spirit, He does not differentiate between the sexes. Prophets are far more than people who predict the future. In fact, God or His Spirit made us their mouthpiece. We mediated between God and human beings. We announced to the people or individuals or to rulers what God had to say to them in certain situations: sometimes it was a warning, sometimes a consolation, sometimes we threatened judgement, and sometimes we predicted the future.

What exactly I did as a prophet is not recorded in the Bible. But later biblical commentators saw this dance, which I taught the other women after the exodus from Egypt, as an ecstatic phenomenon: the Spirit of God takes possession of a person and they become ecstatic. This was quite normal for prophets in the early days of Israel.

Women save the deliverer

It was a sister of Moses who saved his life when he was just a baby. Tradition has it that I was equated with this older sister of Moses who has remained nameless. I watched my little brother, just a few months old, floating around in a small basket on the Nile and was immediately on hand when Pharaoh’s daughter pulled him out the water. I went to fetch my mother so that she could raise her own child for the first few years until he was old enough to be adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses, who would later deliver the people, was saved by the courageous women around him.

Rivalry among siblings

When we fled Egypt under my brother’s leadership, we experienced God’s help in an amazing way. When we thought the enemy had caught up with us, the sea parted at our feet and it closed up again when we had walked through on dry ground—with a wall of water on either side. I interpreted this experience theologically. It became clear to us that God was faithful to His promise and that nothing would dissuade Him, not enemies nor the shortcomings of His people.

We then ended up wandering through the desert for a long time. And Moses decided everything! Would you not have become envious and jealous of your younger brother for playing such a prominent role among the people? I am sure many would have wanted to be more important and have something to say and share in the power themselves. The people had become restless. And we were against the woman whom Moses had married. She was a foreigner. I convinced Aaron to join me in challenging Moses in his position. “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” (Numbers 12: 2).

God’s intervention

The Lord intervened immediately and called us—Moses, Aaron, and me—into the tabernacle. And there He made it clear to us: “Hear now My words: if there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; ‌He is faithful in all My house. ‌I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord. ‌Why then were you not afraid‌ to speak against My servant Moses?” (Numbers 12: 6–8).

We got the message and realised that Moses was more important than we were. Even though we had aroused God’s anger, He spoke to us more like a father speaks to a naughty child. His words were characterised by love. At any rate, the Lord had acknowledged us and spoken to us before He punished me with leprosy. God is good. I accepted the punishment, but my brothers interceded on my behalf and pleaded with God to heal me of the leprosy as quickly as possible. I was shut out and confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move until I was brought back. I had learnt my lesson. I never questioned my brother’s authority again.

My name is Miriam and I was a prophetess. My name is even more important in its Latin form: Maria.


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